Among tech giants investing in AR, Microsoft continues to show strong signs as a leading platform for enterprise productivity. That not only includes its best-of-breed hardware in the Hololens 2, but an expanding suite of software (it is Microsoft after all) for enterprise AR.
This ties to Microsoft’s DNA, as enterprise productivity has been its core business for 30 years. In that sense, it embodies our “follow the money” principle: tech giants’ XR trajectories can be projected based on their financial motivations — usually to future-proof core businesses.
This pattern holds true for Microsoft’s work in AR, which it reinforced at last week’s Ignite conference. The AR headline, as you’ve probably heard, is Microsoft Mesh. This represents Microsoft’s AR cloud and the culmination of many of the AR pieces its been assembling for years.
This is also the topic of this week’s XR Talks, including embedded video and takeaways below. In fact, we’re making this week’s episode a double-shot. In addition to the 60-minute keynote that focused intently on AR, a separate session drilled down into the technicalities of Mesh.
Starting with the broad strokes, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella continues to be a strong proponent of the cloud. In fact, it was under his watch that Microsoft defied a classic innovator’s dilemma and embraced the cloud, even though it deviated from the core structure of its software business.
It’s within that reborn cloud-forward culture that Microsoft’s AR efforts germinate. And this is what makes those efforts formidable. As we’ve examined, Microsoft is taking a full-stack approach to AR, owning the hardware (Hololens), operating system (WMR) and cloud data (Azure).
In addition to those foundational components, Microsoft is naturally positioning itself at the application layer. Dynamics 365 Assist and Azure Spatial Anchors can be thought of as a sort of Microsoft Office of AR. But with a true platform play, it also welcomes developers to build AR apps.
That’s where Mesh comes in. It’s essentially the culmination of all of the pieces outlined above, with some additional functionality such as collaboration through Microsoft Teams. It formalizes and federates these pieces in one place and is now the center of Microsoft’s AR universe.
With that structural background out of the way, what exactly is Mesh? It’s a software architecture that enables spatially oriented computing interactions. It localizes people and objects in space and provides a framework for the interactions with and between those entities.
In more practical and plain-spoken terms, it can let users envision objects in their immediate space, such as a product design or architectural model. More importantly, it can do this with “holo-portation “and multi-user functionality. This opens up the use case to collaborative work.
All of this of course resonates during a pandemic, as well as post-Covid “hybrid” work environments. Being able to more materially interact with people and work elements will find fertile soil in that world. Those work elements can be everything from a whiteboard to a 3D CAD model.
As noted, Mesh will be a platform on which developers build apps. As platforms go, this could accelerate Mesh’s utility by scaling its experience creation. Microsoft has also intelligently made Mesh cross-platform so it can reach network effect faster through broad end-user compatibility.
Into the Abyss
As for other applications and use cases, that’s where the examples in the Ignite Keynote come in, and are worth a thousand words. Those include everything from industrial assembly, to bridge maintenance to deep-sea exploration (including a James Cameron cameo).
One underlying theme traces back to Nadella’s opening comments: The last decade has been all about advances in digital consumption, while the next decade will be all about empowering creation. If Microsoft has a part in shaping that future, much of it will be in six dimensions.
As a fair warning, the keynote (embedded above) contains typical and expected levels of scripted keynote fluff. Normally we steer clear of this in our XR Talks series but the content and sheer technical accomplishment of the event — delivered in Mesh itself — makes it worth watching.
For more advanced readers, the below video goes deeper into Mesh’s technicalities. That includes a hands-on demo of the step-by-step process of creating and deploying Mesh experiences. Check out both videos and stay tuned for more coverage as Mesh makes its way into the world.